Tintype Masters – Part Two
“There is a point in every person’s life when they must choose to follow their dreams or be stuck in the life they fear” boldly proclaims Ian Ruhter – Alchemist. And truly an alchemist he is. Not satisfied with being just a stereotype alchemist turning lead into gold, Ian has gone on to more toxic endeavors. Turning peoples fears into their greatest strengths. Ian goes on to say “I’m not sure why this camera led me to a cemetery where I would face my greatest fears. As I stood in the dark I realized, in the end I will not count the number of day’s I lived, only the moments where I felt truly alive. I was no longer afraid of death but filled with a yearning to live life to the fullest.” Ian goes on to state “The Death Do Us Part film is about the life changing moments we experience on our journey to the end.” I’d say that is a pretty tall statement to make, coming from an alchemist who’s transmuted fear into the strength to tell compelling stories on the grandest of scales on the largest tintype images ever made.
On how he chose the title for his film presented above from Ian’s social media stream “We put our heart & souls in this film it brought me to tears when it was finished. I want to thank all of my #instagram friends you helped us creating this film too. I’m standing in the dark 1,000 miles from home in a graveyard. The morning light arrived and my eyes began to focus. This was the moment everything became clear. I woke up from a nightmare that had lasted seven years. I realized I was surrounded by everything I loved. That’s where the title for the move “Death Do Us Part” came from.”
Ian Ruhter is our second Tintype Master in this series.
Ian Ruhter is a self-taught tintype master photographer who has created the largest wet plate print ever, by converting the bed of his truck into a custom built camera obscura. The camera obscura (Latin; camera for “vaulted chamber/room”, obscura for “dark”, together “darkened chamber/room” is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. It is used in drawing and for entertainment, and was one of the inventions that led to photography and the camera. The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved.
Ian realized that the part he missed most when digital technology took over photography was using his hands so he set out to make a camera that no one else had ever used. A camera so unique it didn’t exist. So he built one. Ian’s camera of choice was ultra large format – a camera obscura – projecting on a tintype plate located inside. It allowed Ian to create images that challenged him to use his hands again, and push his creativity to the limits creating the largest wet plate images ever made. The largest Tintypes in existence.
In his interview with Jonah Samson in Culture on 9 April 2012, when asked why he started doing tintype work Ian replied “As my photography started to become more and more digitized, I began to miss the feeling of being in the darkroom. And then one day, I went to buy film, and I discovered that they weren’t even making the type of film I used to use. I felt I was beginning to lose touch with what it really meant to make a photograph. So I decided to take a step into a time-machine and make pictures the way they were made in the 1800s. I started doing my own research, and basically just ordered everything off the internet and started making plates in my loft in LA. Then I took a class with Will Dunniway, and that helped push me further.”
Further indeed. When asked what drove Ian to create the largest tintype ever made, his answer was simple: “Once I had started to make some nice smaller plates, I began showing them to people. I started scanning them and sharing them as digital files. It was then that I realized I had lost the integrity of the photo again—I had just ended up returning to digital. I realized that if I was going to make pictures in a way I wanted, that I would have to take the process in an entirely different direction.”
A direction that Ian would invest a year and a half of his life researching. A task not without it’s detractors and moments of self doubt. “Even though everyone was telling me that it was impossible, I believed I could do it. Besides once I had bought the lens and the truck I needed to make the pictures, I was so heavily invested, that I felt I just couldn’t back out.” “One of the most frustrating things about doing something that no one has ever done, is that there was no one to call and ask for help. This really became a process of trial and error. I mean, I barely even graduated high school, and here I was forced to be a scientist. I had to create design and build models and do experiments. I had to build a camera big enough to stand in. I had to figure out how to get these chemicals onto such a huge plate of metal. And to make it even more difficult, I decided that I was going to go out on location and shoot landscapes, so I couldn’t even control the environment. I had to start everything from scratch.”